Are My Students Smarter Than I Am?

Recently, I was given the opportunity to help lead an advanced poetry workshop here at Tech.  My adviser wanted to divide his class into two groups, and he wondered if any of his graduate students wanted to lead the other group.  I love teaching (I really do) and I’m often up for a challenge, so I accepted the invitation to help out.  Before I could launch into leading half the class, the professor wanted me to come to a class session to observe, both so that I could familiarize myself with the class and its methods and also so the students could learn who I was.  As I was sitting in the circle of students listening to their poetry and their comments on the work of others, I found myself thoroughly impressed.  Some of these undergraduate writers were just as strong as graduate-level poets!  As this realization sunk in, so did a feeling in the pit of my stomach – what if some of these students are better at this than I am?  How can I possibly be expected to help them or teach them anything when they are just as or, gulp, more talented?  Are my students going to be smarter than I am???

After the anxiety died down, I realized that, yes, inevitably, if I teach long enough, I will encounter many students who are just as smart or smarter than I am.  But what  I also realized is that it really doesn’t matter.  Just because a student might have knowledge or a knack that comes more easily to them than it did or does to me doesn’t mean that I have nothing to offer.  I have experience, years of practice, and teaching skills under my belt, all pieces that are unique to me that I can offer to the students in the class.  Furthermore, it’s a part of my teaching philosophy that students should be teaching the rest of the class – and that includes me – while also learning throughout the course.  So it’s okay (actually, it’s preferable) that students have elements to offer that seem “better” in some instances than what I could provide because it makes the class richer for the both of us and for everyone else sitting in the room.

I led the workshop by myself for the first time on Monday, and things went rather well.  The students had engaging and important things to say, and so did I.  I hope to continue to mine the riches that the students bring to the table by guiding them to realize the worth that they possess and to share it with the rest of us privileged enough to sit alongside them.

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